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A LAST CHANCE
 SUBRIUS was on duty that afternoon in the camp, and his
place in the Court, where the Prefect was still in
attendance, was filled by another Tribune. No one who
saw him going, with an imperturbable calm, through the
numberless little details which had to be looked after
by the Tribune on duty, would have imagined how much he
had at stake. The fact was that he had hardened his
heart to any fortune, while he was both by temper of
mind and by deliberate conviction a Stoic and a
fatalist. Still he could not help feeling what may be
described rather as a vivid curiosity than an anxiety
as to what the day might bring forth. The Greek
freedwoman who was being examined that afternoon,
whatever she knew of the conspiracy, whether it was
little or much, anyhow knew his name. Would she keep
the secret? It was scarcely likely. He had seen men,
who had every motive of honour and affection to keep
them silent, quailing under the threats of pain, and
sacrificing everything in their desperate clinging to
life; would this weak woman, who had no honourable
traditions of birth and training to which she would be
 bound, show herself braver and more faithful than
soldiers and nobles? Who could imagine it? And yet when
he thought of that strong, resolute face he thought it
And he was right. He was making his way to his quarters
when he encountered the officer who had been occupying
his place in the Court during the afternoon.
"Subrius," said his friend, "you have missed the
strangest sight that ever man saw. Ah! and I wish that
I had missed it too, for it was almost past bearing. A
Greek freedwoman was brought before the Court—Epicharis
was her name. It seems that she had been
accused of conspiring against the Emperor some time
ago, but that nothing could be proved against her then;
now that all this has come out, she was to be examined
again. One of the Secretaries read over the confessions
of the prisoners who had been before the Court in the
morning, and then Tigellinus said: 'You hear this.
What have you to say?' 'Nothing,' she answered. Well,
he went on asking questions. 'Had she ever heard
anything about the affair? How could she account for
all these confessions? She had declared that Proculus
had invented his story; was it likely that all these
witnesses, knights, Senators, and soldiers, had also
invented theirs?' She went on answering, 'I know
nothing about it,' or was silent. Before long,
Tigellinus broke out, 'You have lost your memory,
 woman, it seems; well, we have charms for bringing it
back.' At the same time he made a sign to a slave that
stood by and the man uncovered the instruments of
torture. I assure you that the girl—she was only a girl—did
not so much as flinch or start. Well, they put
her on the rack, and the executioner gave it a turn. I
assure you it makes me almost sick when I think of it.
At the second turn the woman said, 'I have something
to say.' 'Ah, madam!' cried Tigellinus, 'I thought we
should find your tongue for you. Loose her!' The men
took her off the rack, and set her in a chair; she was
quite unable to stand. 'Cæsar,' she said, 'since you
are resolved to force the truth from me, you shall have
it. I have conspired against your life, and had I been
a man, and had had the opportunities which others have
had, I had done more; I would not only have plotted,
but would have struck. Would you know why? Because you
are a murderer. You slew your wife Octavia because she
was ten thousand times too good for you. It is she whom
I would have avenged. The gods have willed it
otherwise; they have assigned the task to other hands.
You may kill me as you will. I do not care to live. But
do not flatter yourself that the Furies of your mother,
your brother, your wife, will suffer you to rest. They
will find some sword to reach your heart, though this
has been broken.' By Mars! Subrius, the woman looked
like a Fury herself as she said this. She had started
 up from her chair, though how she could stand I cannot
imagine, and poured out her words as if she were
inspired. The Emperor seemed struck dumb, but
Tigellinus cried, 'Gag her; cut out her tongue!'
Before they could touch her, she said again, 'Would
you know my associates?' Tigellinus made a sign that
they were to leave her alone. She was so frantic, he
thought, that she might let out something almost
without knowing it. 'I will tell you; my associates
are all brave soldiers, all good citizens, all who love
their country. To-morrow, Cæsar, if not to-day, these
will be on my side, and they will be too strong for
you, for all your legions. Mark my words: before five
years are past, you will desire and yet be afraid to
die, and will hardly find a friend to press home the
"Brave woman!" said Subrius, "and what then?"
"After that," replied the other, "she said nothing
more. Not a single word could they wring out of her
lips, though they tortured her in a way that, as I
said, made me sick to see. At last the physician told
them that unless they stopped they would kill her. So
she was carried off, to be brought back again to-morrow,
"Great Jupiter! how she shames us all," said Subrius
to himself, when he had parted from his brother
officer. "To think of the shameful exhibition that
those freeborn men made yesterday, and then see what
this woman has done! And what of
 myself? Would she—had
she been in my place—hold her hand? And yet I was
bound to obey orders. The gods grant I may find Rufus
in a bolder mood at last!"
This bolder mood unhappily was what not even the
necessity of his desperate position could create in the
Prefect. Subrius found him still unwilling to act,
clinging frantically to the hope that his share in the
conspiracy might yet pass undiscovered. In vain did
Subrius ply him with arguments and remonstrances.
"It is sheer madness," he said, after going again and
again over the familiar ground; "nothing but madness,
to hope that you will not be named by some one of the
condemned. It is a marvel that it has not been done
already. But if you think that they will all endure to
see you sitting as their judge, cross-examining,
threatening, when by a word they might bring you down
to stand at their side, you are simply fooling
yourself. Why should they spare you?"
"If any one does name me, I can deny it," said Rufus.
"Deny it!" cried the Tribune; "what good will that do
you? Nero is so panic-stricken that to be named to him
is to be condemned. And what of Tigellinus? Don't you
know that he has a protegé of his own for whom he
covets your place?"
"It is my only chance," murmured the Prefect. "It is
too late for anything else."
 "Possibly," returned Subrius gloomily; "we have lost
too many chances, and this is a fault which Fortune
never forgives. But it is not too late to die; that is
the only thing, I take it, that our folly has left us
free to do. Let us cast lots who shall play the
executioner. We shall do it at least in a more seemly
fashion than Nero's hangsman."
At this moment there was a tap at the door. The Prefect
turned pale; any moment, he knew in his heart of
hearts, might bring with it his arrest. Subrius put
his hand upon his sword-hilt, ready to sell his life as
clearly as he could.
The newcomer was another Tribune of the Prætorians,
Silvanus by name.
"Well, Silvanus, what news?" asked Rufus.
"I will tell you," replied the other, "and you must
judge what is to be done. Yesterday Cæsar sent for me,
after he had finished his examination of the
prisoners. Tigellinus was with him, and Poppæa;
Antonius Natalis was there, with handcuffs on his
hands, and a soldier on each side of him. 'Repeat,
Natalis,' said Cæsar, 'what you have told us about
Seneca.' At that Natalis said: 'I went lately to see
Seneca when he was sick. Piso sent me. I was to
complain of Seneca's having always denied himself to
him of late. They were old friends; he had much to say
to Seneca; it would be greatly to their mutual profit
if he were allowed an opportunity of saying it. I took
this message to Seneca,' Natalis went on. 'His answer
 was that he did not agree with Piso, but thought, on
the contrary, that it would not be to the interest of
either of them that they should have much talk. He
quite saw, however, that he and Piso must stand and
fall together.' When Natalis had finished, Cæsar said
to me, 'You hear, Silvanus, the evidence of Natalis.'
'Yes, Sire,' I said, 'I hear.' 'It shows plainly that
there was an understanding between them,' the Emperor
went on. 'Is it not so?' 'Doubtless, Sire,' I said, for
one does not contradict an Emperor, you know. 'Well,'
he went on, 'go to Seneca, repeat that evidence to him,—to
make sure that you have it right, you had better
put it into writing,—and ask him how he can explain
it. Of course you will take a guard with you!' Well, I
went. Seneca, who had just come back from Baiæ, was at
his house, between the Anio and the Mons Sacer, and
when I got there was at dinner with his wife and two
friends. I read Natalis' evidence to him. He said: 'It
is quite true that Natalis came to me from Piso with a
complaint that I denied myself to him. I said that I
really was not well enough to see any but a very few
friends; indeed, the physicians prescribe absolute rest;
of course, if the Emperor wants me, I must come, but
I cannot be expected to sacrifice my life for any one
else. As to what I am reported to have said about Piso
and myself standing and falling together, I don't
understand it. I may have given the common message, "If
Piso is well, I
 am well," but I never went beyond it.
That is all I have to say,' he went on, 'and if Cæsar
does not know by this time that I am in the habit of
speaking the truth, nothing that I can say will
persuade him.' Well, I went back; when I reached the
palace, Nero was at dinner with Tigellinus and Poppæa.
I repeated Seneca's words exactly. I had taken the
precaution, I should say, of writing them down. The
Emperor said, 'Did the old man say anything about
killing himself?' 'Nothing,' I said. We heard him
mutter to himself, 'The old dotard is very slow to take
a hint. What could be plainer? You are sure,' he said,
turning to me again, 'you saw no signs of anything of
the kind?' 'Nothing,' I answered; 'he was as calm and
quiet as ever I saw a man in my life.' 'Well,' said
Cæsar, 'then we must speak more plainly. Go back and
tell him that he has three hours to live, and no
"What then?" said the Prefect. "What did you do?"
"Instead of going back, I came to you," replied
"And why?" asked the Prefect.
"Do you ask me why?" cried Silvanus. "Surely you must
know. Am I to go or am I not to go? Say the word. I am
ready to obey."
 At this point Subrius broke in. "Silvanus is right. He
sees that this is our last chance. Piso is dead,
Lateranus is dead. Seneca is the only man left whom we
can put up with any hope against the tyrant. For
Heaven's sake, away with this frantic folly of thinking
that you can escape! Speak the word, Fænius Rufus, and
I will go with Silvanus here to Seneca's house. We will
take him, whether he will or not—for he is more likely
to refuse than to consent—and bring him into the camp,
and salute him as Emperor."
"No! No!" cried the Prefect, wringing his hands in an
agony of perplexity. "It is hopeless. It must fail!"
"Anyhow," retorted the Tribune, "it is not so
absolutely hopeless as your plan. We have lost better
chances than this; but this has, at least, the merit of
being our last."
"I cannot do it," said Rufus after a pause. "Carry out
your orders, Silvanus; there is nothing else to do."
"So be it, then," said Subrius. "you have sealed our
fate and your own. I will go with you, Silvanus. I
would fain see how a philosopher can die; it will not
be long before we shall need the lesson."